Today is the birthday of Betty Smith (born in 1896) who wrote one of the all-time best sellers A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
The interesting thing about Betty is that she never “officially” went beyond 8th grade in her formal education. Despite that drawback and the fact that she was working to put her husband through school while raising two young daughters, she convinced the Dean at the University of Michigan to allow her to audit writing classes, and he agreed. That gave her the writing background she needed to hone her skills in journalism and creative writing. And, ultimately, in an era where entrance into the publishing world had been reserved for white men or upper-class women, she earned recognition as the first urban, working-class woman author.
Smith quickly found that she was among the most “listened to” students in her college classes, because she literally spoke with a different voice, a voice from life experiences. She lived life intensely and cared passionately about matters that others could only guess at, and her professors recognized this. Ultimately she was rewarded with the Avery Hopwood Award, the most prestigious writing prize bestowed by the University.
In 1928, Smith started submitting her work to area newspapers and the N.E.A. Syndicate, selling some 50 articles to the Syndicate and places like the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, the Herald Tribune, Zenith Magazine and Ramer Review. For this work she made $176.75 – “And I thought I was on top of the world,” she later recalled.
A dozen years later, the success of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn earned her $95,805.76 in 1943 and more than $200 thousand in 1944, and that was before movie rights, which led to an Academy Award winning movie in 1945. Between then and 1963, she wrote three more best sellers, including Joy in the Morning, another top-grossing book and movie.
Betty Smith in 1945
She remains today as a beacon for all writers who both have a dream and the “can do” spirit to make it a reality.
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